Nine’s disinterest in regional media doesn’t just extend to the recently-acquired regional newspaper group it’s trying to offload. Last week, less than two years after rolling out new, standalone newsrooms across regional Australia, Nine closed two of its Queensland newsrooms to cut costs.
The network opened the Toowoomba and Mackay newsrooms in the second half of 2017, after regional network WIN changed its affiliation from Nine to Ten, and announced to staff on Friday they would be closing.
As Crikey reported yesterday, Nine’s current regional affiliate Southern Cross — in whose offices most of Nine’s regional newsrooms were based — declared in its interim results that the regional television operations had no intangible value. It cut the book valuation of the operations by more than $226.9 million.
And in Nine’s interim results, also announced yesterday, the network confirmed what was already known: that its network of regional and community newspapers (Australian Community Media), acquired with the rest of Fairfax Media last year, was for sale. The group includes 130 newspapers across the country, mostly small and regional but including The Canberra Times. The New Zealand titles acquired in the Fairfax takeover are also on the market.
CEO Hugh Marks told The Australian:
In terms of ACM and New Zealand, interested parties are in due diligence. Subject to receiving I think offers that represent acceptable value for our shareholders, I certainly anticipate seeking to complete that process in this financial year.
The Queensland closures have been quietly dealt with. Nine wouldn’t comment to Crikey further than the email that head of regional news Mike Dalton sent to staff. The email said the nine staff affected would be redeployed across the network where possible, and this had already happened for nearly half of them:
Nine would like to reassure staff these changes in no way reflect upon employees’ efforts or professionalism over the past two years.
A spokeswoman told The Daily Mercury the changes were purely about savings: “This is where they see the savings happening. That’s not a message to the journos. The aim is, we want to keep everybody on board.”
Toowoomba will now get a south-east Queensland bulletin without having journalists based in the city, and Mackay will also be shown a regional bulletin with local weather, and state and local news. The other five newsrooms in Queensland will remain in place, as will the four each in Victoria and southern NSW.
Dalton spoke to Crikey in the middle of the roll-out, spruiking the 110 new jobs and Nine’s commitment to regional, local journalism. He acknowledged that Queensland would be a tough market, but thought the bulletins with local newsrooms and presented out of Brisbane would be a success.
“If Nine does news it does it properly,” he said. “It’s Nine’s reputation as a brand … We want to tell local stories. There’s so many regional stories out there that don’t get told and we want to tell those stories. It’s a good news story all up that we’re investing in the industry.”